GREEN BAY – The shift doesn't get starker in terms of style of play.
Not one of the quarterbacks the Packers have faced this season has been the improvising, scrambling, extended-play type. Green Bay could, for the most part, count on Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady to stay in the pocket.
Now along comes Houston's Deshaun Watson.
Couple the dramatic change in opponent with all the questions about the Packers' pass-rush struggles and it presents an interesting conundrum. Starting Sunday, the Packers must do a better job at getting after the quarterback and disrupting him, but selling out to do so against Watson could ultimately do more harm than good.
"With his ability to create, extend and get out of (spots where) basically most quarterbacks would get sacked … It definitely creates some unique challenges," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "We've got to be really disciplined within our rush lanes."
That's easier said than done, particularly when the pass rush hasn't been as effective this year as it was in 2019 and there's a need to do more. While the sack pace is not far off – the Packers have 12 through five games after posting 41 in the regular season last year – various metrics show Green Bay's pressure numbers (hurries, hits, etc.) are down considerably.
But the Packers can't get so hell-bent on attacking Watson that they fail to contain him, because he's capable of doing more damage on the move than any of Green Bay's five previous opposing QBs thus far in 2020.
Watson, the Texans' fourth-year signal caller, is not taking off and running as much as he has in the past. Through six games this season, he has just 23 rushes for 109 yards and a TD. That's well off the pace of each of the last two years, when he had 99 runs for 551 yards and five TDs in 2018 and 82 runs for 413 yards and seven TDs last year.
But it isn't as much how might he take off and scramble as the kind of plays he can make downfield when he wiggles free of the pass rush into the clear. Then he's got the defense on its heels.
"The coverage could be really, really good up to three seconds and all of a sudden it breaks down because things extend and then the big plays happen," defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said. "We've got to … not give him great lanes to step up into and scramble out. It's always tough. Those quarterbacks are always tough to handle."
The other factor is that pass rushers can do practically everything right against Watson, and he can look dead-to-rights with nowhere to go, but somehow the play still won't be over.
That's why one of LaFleur's messages this week is "making sure we're playing to the echo of the whistle."
"We can never assume he's going down," LaFleur said.
The same applies to the secondary with its coverage. Assuming a play is over could prove costly.
Houston's top trio of receivers – Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks and former Packers star Randall Cobb – all have the speed and savvy to make something happen when defensive backs are in "plaster" mode, which is the call in the back end when the QB is running around to extend the play.
While the Packers have done a solid job in recent weeks of not letting the opponents' top receivers get into the flow of the game (Atlanta's Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, along with Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, all were either held in check or rendered non-factors), Green Bay's cover guys weren't tested via the time clock as much as they might be against Watson.
"We have to account for two plays, which is the original play and then the play Watson makes for himself," said Jaire Alexander, the Packers' No. 1 corner who has done exemplary work against Ridley and Evans the last two games. "We just have to stay on our guys.
"The average play is what, a little under four seconds? So when you have a scrambling quarterback or a quarterback that can move out of the pocket, you have to cover for maybe even seven seconds, or eight or nine or 10."
It's up to the pass rush to prevent that scenario by finding a way to both disrupt yet contain Watson. As has been discussed the past couple of weeks, the Packers' defense hasn't generated the turnovers it did a year ago, either, but those stem more often than not from the pass rush, too, whether via forcing fumbles or errant throws.
It's a lot to ask in a matchup like this, but the Packers need the best their pass rush can provide.
"We've just got to keep working to get better," LaFleur said. "We've got to keep digging, man, and take it one play at a time."